I got my latest issue of Gardens Illustrated magazine the other day. I say "my" latest issue, because this British pub take a long time to get to a mailbox in the U.S. and I believe the next issue is already out in England. I put up with that because it's a fantastic magazine, one that has earned shelf space next to my collection of Fine Gardening magazines.

After giving it a once-over (that's how I read magazines: zip through them and then go back and actually read them), I read Frank Ronan's column. Unfortunately it was not on the website so I can't link to it, but it was all about disregarding the style of your house when designing a garden. The subhead was, "Planting your garden to conform to the period of your house is ridiculous, says Frank."

According to Ronan: "The house is a fixture, and I agree that if you extend the original architecture should be respected. But the garden around it is a fluid thing, which cannot stand still for a day, let alone the aeon that a solid house should last. To make the garden conform to the architecture is as ridiculous as dressing in the clothes of the period, and as pretentious."

I'll be honest: I have always tied garden design to a house's architecture in some way. I have a hard time envisioning my house with anything other than a cottage-style garden. In no way can I imagine a walled English garden at my parents' mid-century modern house.

At the same time, I've long preached that you don't have to follow the rules in your garden. It's yours; do what you want. Maybe that means I fall somewhere in the middle on this. Still, it seems to me that some houses are MADE for a specific kind of garden.

Would this work outside any other style of house?

I tried very hard to find photos of gardens that don't match their houses but it was very difficult (note: This is different from gardens that have no style whatsoever; those don't count for the purposes of this discussion). Maybe this says more about Ronan's point; that it really doesn't matter.

What kind of house would you expect to see attached to this garden?

Did you think it would look like this?

This garden is interesting to me. It's certainly very symmetrical which lends itself to a formal style.

And yet when you see a broader view of the house, I think a more free-flowing style garden would be equally nice. Clearly this kind of thing is what the owners were after.

What do you think? Do gardens need to match the style of the house?


  1. Oh I have loved that Far Hills garden/house for so long. I think it's more about region than style of home. In places like where you or I live, it's foolish to have a garden with no winter bones. Martha Stewart's BFF and interior design head, Kevin Sharkey, always said his dream house was a black colonial with an angular forsythia hedge. I love the vision of that. I guess it really just comes down to how much one trusts his/her own tastes.

  2. To a certain degree, I think they should match. A cottage garden will work in a suburban setting if there's enough cottage elements to the house. But a mid-century Frank Lloyd Wright inspired home would look like it had been dropped from the sky in a cottage garden. Likewise, I don't like to see Japanese style gardens around a traditional suburban home. If you're lucky enough to have a home that has a distinctive style, then I believe you should try and complement it with a like-minded garden. Your garden, for example, suits your lovely home. The house has so much charm and the gardens match that perfectly.

  3. Well I certainly agree with that article given I live in the Midwest in a mid-century house and have an Asian-influenced garden. But our house is rather bland and it's painted to disappear into the landscape which makes a big difference compared to the houses you show here. I think some of this is about whether you want your house to stand out or disappear. Adore that mag.

  4. I just got my copy yesterday too; I always feel like a kid getting candy when it shows up! I think Stephen's point about region is at least as important as house style, but architecture should be related to garden in some way, at least in scale, and garden layout should tie into the exterior lines of the house. But I believe that we all have a large amount of flexibility to have the style of garden we love, regardless of whether we have a house that goes with that style. Interesting topic! -Beth


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